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Alessandro Mendini (b. 1931)


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(established 1985)

This internationally renowned company was named after amalgamation of the words ‘Swiss’ and ‘watch’. It emerged from a severe crisis in the Swiss watchmaking industry in the 1970s brought about by the worldwide availability of cheap Japanese electronic watches. This rather depressing picture began to change in the wake of the launch of the Delirium, the world's thinnest electronic watch, in 1979 and the formation of SMH (Swiss Corporation for Microelectronic and Watchmaking Industries). Following the merger and reorganization of two watch companies in the early 1980s by Nicolas G. Hayek, a number of the strategies that he set in place led to the re‐emergence of the Swiss watch industry as world leader by 1984. The Hayek Company had been founded in 1963 and developed a reputation for technological innovation, strategic planning, and a wide range of expertise in several other fields. Hayek was the co‐founder of the Swatch Group, becoming its chief executive officer and chairman of the board of directors in 1986. In addition to Swatch itself, the brand names of the Swatch Group include Omega, Tissot, Pierre Balmain, Calvin Klein, Flik Flak, Rado, and Longines.

The first Swatch watch was high quality, attractively priced, and launched in 1983. It was also slim‐line, plastic, precision engineered, and manufactured using highly innovative and automated technologies. Impossible to repair but cheap enough to replace without fuss, by the early 21st century it had achieved sales of 200 million, making it the best‐selling watch ever. Each Swatch watch has the same mechanism rendering the product capable of differentiation through the design of its face and strap. From the late 1980s onwards the Swatch became a fashion accessory, the Swatch Design Lab in Milan producing more than 70 designs per year, often using celebrated designers such as Alessandro Mendini and Matteo Thun. Swatch has also diversified into other model ranges including the Automatic (the first wristwatch alarm), the Beep (the first wristwatch pager), the Solar (light powered), and the Musicall (musical alarm). Swatch was also the official timekeeper for the Sydney Olympic Games of 2000.

Furthermore, in addition to a number of honorary doctorates from leading European universities, in 1995 the German Chancellor Helmut Kohl appointed Hayek to his Council for Research, Technology, and Innovation, the only foreigner among seventeen members. Similarly, in the following year, the French government nominated him as president of the Groupe de Réflexion, an innovation council devoted to future French economic strategies.

Subjects: Industrial and Commercial Art.

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